Call it what you will. Jews who celebrate it have no idea of its tragic significance in Jewish history. "Sylvester" is the name of the Pope from January 31, 314 C.E. to December 31, 335 C.E. His Saint’s Day is the day he was buried, and it falls on December 31. He presided over the Catholic Church during an important period in its history. He is thought to have been instrumental in the process that led to the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity.
Subsequently, Jewish history did not turn this day into one that should be celebrated by Jews. It was decreed by the Pope that “On New Years Day 1577 Pope Gregory XIII decreed that all Roman Jews, under pain of death, must listen attentively to the compulsory Catholic conversion sermon given in Roman synagogues after Friday night services. On New Years Day 1578 Gregory signed into law a tax forcing Jews to pay for the support of a “House of Conversion” to convert Jews to Christianity. On New Years 1581 Gregory ordered his troops to confiscate all sacred literature from the Roman Jewish community. Thousands of Jews were murdered in the campaign.
Throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods, January 1 - supposedly the day on which Jesus’ circumcision initiated the reign of Christianity and the death of Judaism - was reserved for anti-Jewish activities: synagogue and book burnings, public tortures, and vicious murders.
The Israeli term for New Year’s night celebrations, “Sylvester,” was the name of the “Saint” and Roman Pope who reigned during the Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.). The year before the Council of Nicaea convened, Sylvester is said to have convinced Constantine to prohibit Jews from living in Jerusalem. At the Council of Nicaea, Sylvester arranged for the passage of a host of anti-Semitic legislation. All Catholic “Saints” are awarded a day on which Christians celebrate and pay tribute to that Saint’s memory. December 31 is Saint Sylvester Day - hence celebrations on the night of December 31 are dedicated to Sylvester’s memory". Unwittingly, Jews around the world who party and stand in places like Times Square watching the civil year usher in, are celebrating this tragic day in Jewish history.
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